Ad Report Card: Lee Jeans Gets Surreal

Most of the time the Ad Report Card focuses on commercials shown in the United States, for the simple reason that I live in the United States, and those are the ads I see. Today’s installment is an exception. Recently I read in the advertising column of the Wall Street Journal about a campaign for Lee Jeans that’s currently running in Europe (on television and in theaters). I found the description hard to believe. Happily, the ad exists on Lee’s European site, right here. The Journal was right about it. And you should really see it.

The ad: OK, so the ad tells a little adventure story, which is normal enough. What’s less normal is that the main characters are a small group of “bare derrieres,” to borrow from the Wall Street Journal. Naked rear ends. Those are the characters. They talk. The ad is not animated. This isn’t quite as bad as it might sound, but it’s still pretty frightening: The illusion of talking is achieved by way of cheek-flexing. At this point I’ll just say, once and for all, that I’m serious, this is really what happens in the ad. OK?

So, there are these three rumps, and they’re in some lame bar/disco, and they’re looking (or however you want to say it) at various other dancing rumps who are clad in Lee Jeans. “It’s not fair,” one of the naked bums says, “Why can’t we by like them?” (They all have American accents, by the way.) One of the others says, “That’s it. Tomorrow, my friends, we change our lives.” Fade out. Fade in the countryside as seen through a moving car window at sunrise. Acoustic guitar plucking ensues. Shadows play across the windshield. The four butts are on the road. Production values here and elsewhere are high—it’s like a scene from a competently made road movie. Except that instead of people in the car, it’s … well,  you know.

The road hurtles by, and they arrive in a small (American) town, where an old man leans right into the car to answer the question, “Is there anywhere around here we can get some Lee jeans?” Things progress in this manner, as the characters search America for their preferred brand. From time to time we get an actual, surreal view of the butt-filled car. They’re sort of disembodied in there. It’s unbelievably creepy, maybe like a Magritte, but more like something that the guy in the back row of the detention hall at your high school might have drawn on his book cover, right underneath a meticulous rendering of Iron Maiden’s mascot “ Eddie.” They press against store windows, interrogate shop owners, and arrive in the big city, where they find some Lee jeans, and, presumably to the enormous (the bottomless?) relief of a freaked-out continent, they cover up. 

The end. As it were.

Getting a Bum Rush? It’s hard to find words. This may be the most bizarre ad I’ve ever seen. It defies mockery, it transcends parody. I can’t say that I liked it, exactly, because if I did then I’m afraid I’d be hauled in for testing. On the other hand, I can’t say I hated it, or even that I thought it was bad, because that just seems inadequate. I guess I should also make clear that there’s nothing titillating or even sexual about the “nudity” here, it’s just weird. Not only is this commercial weirder than most other commercials, I imagine it’s weirder than most art films. It’s probably weirder than most of Dalí’s dreams. Certainly it must be a talked-about campaign among those who’ve seen it, although I’m not sure what they would say other than, “What was that about?” or maybe, “Did you slip something into my drink?” If Lee is lucky, people will remember what the ad was for. If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to forget this entire incident.